A March 2004 trip
to Innsbruck by lcampbell
Quote: The westernmost province of Austria is the Tirol, home to almost 600 mountains over 3000 meters. Obviously irresistible to experienced skiers, I wanted to find out if the Austrian Alps had something for me, and Average Ski Jane.
Alpine villages are scattered around the Tirol, which can be visited while skiing countless runs serviced by 1209 cables and lifts. Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter walking, and tobogganing, just to name a few.
The capitol of the Tirol is Innsbruck, a major commercial and cultural center with 120,000 inhabitants. Innsbruck has a rich history, starting in the Bronze Age and most recently known for twice hosting the Winter Olympics (1964, 1976). In the late fifteenth/early sixteenth century, Emperor Maximilian I made it his Imperial capitol.
Innsbruck is a great central location, in which to stay while exploring the Tirol. Extensive tourist services make visiting outlying areas easy, while still having access to a variety of restaurants, museums, and cultural activities in the city. Some of my favorite sights were Swarovski Crystal Worlds and the Bergisel Ski Jump.
Anyway . . .
The Innsbruck Tourism Board offers a wealth of information at their website, and the Tirol Tourist Board website is also a great resource.
I didn’t try it, but the Innsbruck Card looked like a good deal. It covers all transportation, three different cable cars, and admission to all museums and tourist sites, including Swarovski Crytal World, Bergisel Ski Jump, and Alpine Zoo. Price for the card is: €21/26/31 for 24/48/72 hours respectively.
Another tourist card is the Club Innsbruck Card, which is free to anyone staying overnight in Innsbruck. It gives card holders free guided walks and hikes in the summer, lantern hikes, free hiker and ski shuttle service, and a free drink at the casino.
See my separate journal entry for ski pass information.
The shuttle bus system is widespread and includes small mountain villages and most ski areas, so there should be little reason to need a private vehicle when visiting the area. Schedules are available from the tourist office or from your hotel. Use of this shuttle is free with payment of a hotel room in Innsbruck or surrounding area.
A separate shuttle system called the Sightseer takes tourists to all of the major tourist sights on two different routes. The bus leaves from various points every half hour during the summer, and every hour during the winter. The Sightseer has an Audio Guide System in six languages. The price is €8/5,60 (adult, child) for a full day pass, or is free for those with an Innsbruck Card (see above).
Of course, the excellent service provided by this five-star hotel charmed me as well. This is a girl that finds flush toilets at a campground to be luxurious.
My room was not especially large, but every bit of it was high quality and comfortable. The down comforters and pillows found in European hotels could make me want to return regardless of anything else. There was a dark wood armoire to hold my clothes, a table and chairs for relaxing, and TV and radio for a modern touch. The bathroom was also very modern, and everything was spotlessly clean.
The breakfasts (included in price of room) were incredibly impressive: decadent cheeses and meats, fresh and dried fruit of all kinds, high quality breads and sweet rolls, along with yogurts, nuts, granola, and cereal. There were American favorites like eggs and sausage, and numerous fresh juices. The coffee and tea were excellent, as well. Can you tell I got up extra early every day just to have enough time to relax and enjoy my breakfasts? But beware of getting up for seconds – the enthusiastic and efficient servers might just get carried away and clear your table in the 20 seconds it took you to procure a plop of yogurt. Yes, this happened to me more than once… not really sure how to prevent it.
Other amenities for guests are safety deposit boxes, parking, ski storage room, sauna, solarium, steam bath, internet access, bar, and restaurant.
The hotel is conveniently located directly across from the train station in Innsbruck, or 5km from the airport (approximately €10 by taxi). It is in the heart of the historic city center, and the tourist shuttles (see Overview) pick up visitors nearby.
The rates for Europa Tyrol are €124-164 for a single, and €183-248 for a double. There are also suites and executive apartments. Europa Tyrol offers room/meal/ski packages as well, details can be found at their website.
Although I highly recommend this grand hotel, there are plenty of other choices of accommodations, both in Innsbruck and in nearby holiday villages. Choose from:
2 four-star hotels (€35-150 per person per night)
bed and breakfasts (€30-65 pp pn)
small guesthouses and pensions (€25-45 pp pn)
youth hostels (€13-18 pp pn)
apartments (€30-120 per apartment per night)
private rooms (€15-25 pp pn)
campgrounds (€3-5 pp pn)
See www.innbruck.info and www.tirol.at for information on specific accommodations.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 20, 2004
Hotel Europa Tyrol
SUEDTIROLER PLATZ 2
Attraction | "Bergisel Ski Jump"
We had just finished a brief walking tour of Innsbruck with Lucy, and were now visiting the new Bergisel Ski Jump with her. Bergisel Peak was the site of a freedom battle almost 200 years ago. In 1925, the first ski jump was built. The jump was used in both the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics – the Olympic torches are still at the jump. In 1988, Pope John Paul II held mass in the landing area of the jump. It is used annually for International Four Jump Tournament (winter) and the International Ski Jumping Competition (summer).
After visiting the torches and landing area, we next went up the 47 meter glass elevator. On the way up, we saw the shocking curve of the actual jump. My eyes widened as I saw how steep the jump is, and the distance down to the landing area. At the top, we got yet another perspective, as we looked directly down the take-off area. I think I’ll keep my day job.
Two aspects of the ski jump that make it more than a ski jump, and therefore, more fulfilling to visit, are the architecture of the new mountaintop building, and the small café contained in it. The ski jump was rebuilt and reopened in 2002. The architect was the famous Zaha Hadid, of London. The building is a work of art visible from all parts of town. It is definitely a source of pride for local folks. The top of the jump and the café have a spectacular 360 view north to Innsbruck and the Karwendel range, and south to Brenner Pass and Italy. I can highly recommend the hot chocolate.
It is easy to reach the Bergisel Ski Jump by using the new Sightseer tourist shuttle from town (see overview for details on shuttle). The entrance fee is €6 for adults, €3 for kids age 6-14, and free under age 6. Entrance is free to holders of the Innsbruck Card (see overview). Hours are 9am-5pm daily.
Guided tours are available, but in my opinion are unnecessary. The site is self-explanatory and the history is available in the brochure. But of course, meeting Lucy was an experience in itself.
Bergiselschanze/Bergisel Ski Jump
Bergisel, Innsbruck 6020
+43 664 300 33 33
I surveyed the ski scene while going up a surprisingly long chair lift. "That looks pretty steep" I said to Antonia, another Average Ski Jane. She was nervous too. We searched our brains for the German words for "Which is the easiest?" with no success.
My first day of skiing in Tirol was at a ski resort area called Kühtai, which turns out was the perfect place to start my European ski adventure. I discovered that 1) skiing is like riding a bike, so I remember what I had learned while skiing as a kid in Wisconsin, and 2) there are plenty of beginner and intermediate slopes at Kühtai, not just expert ones. Although in retrospect, it would have been nice to know that the red circles don’t mean easy, but rather intermediate!
Kuhtai is Austria’s highest ski resort at 2020 meters. The elevation makes for reliable skiing from December to May, a longer season than other resorts in the area. Kühtai is small enough that it can be skied without a ski guide and without fear of getting lost, making it a great place for beginning to intermediate skiers as well as for families. But while it is small, the scenery is still breathtaking. Everything was so beautiful, especially with the unreal blue sky and sunshine, that I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the ground, which of course was detrimental to my skiing ability, or lack thereof.
While at Kühtai, make sure to check out the traditional Tirolean food and atmosphere at the Dorfstadl restaurant, on the main road and just a short walk from all of the lifts. The owner, Buggi, had a fascinating European charm/Harley Davidson biker look with his leather lederhosen and long hair and beard. He was superbly gracious and brought us fantastic dishes such as Käsespatzle (cheese dumplings with crispy onions) and ötztalker berg-gröstl (potato, meat, and egg skillet), each priced less than €8.
Kühtai has reasonable rates for ski passes, with day passes starting at €27. Kuhtai has plenty of affordable accommodations to choose from, as well as room/meal/ski pass packages that are good deals. Another option is to ski Kühtai as a day trip from Innsbruck, with is about 30 minutes away via the free shuttle bus. There are three trips to and from Kuhtai each day from various points in Innsbruck, including a shuttle for night skiing on Wednesday evenings.
Kühtai Ski area
Attraction | "Swarovski Crystal Worlds"
The trip begins before even entering the building. At the entrance, visitors meet the Giant, who guards everything inside. The Giant is a waterfall-spouting green head who is quite impressive. Inside, guests are immediately given drinks – I highly recommend the champagne/gin/triple sec concoction. It helps to prepare for what lies ahead.
The introduction room contains the world’s largest and smallest cut crystals. Also impressive is the crystal wall, which is 42 meters long and 11 meters high. It is made of 12 tons of cut crystals, equal to Swarovski daily production.
From the introduction hall, visitors move into the Chambers of Wonder. This is where the trip turns “trippy.” The first chamber is a 3-D projection that is supposed to represent the “history of the world in crystalline metaphors,” according to the brochure. The second area is a mirrored dome with 590 facets and interesting acoustics. I didn’t quite understand the next chamber… something to do with crystals and healing.
Next came the crystal theatre, where we are instructed to use our imagination, and think that anything is possible. This was a very interesting area, as was the next room – the Giant’s room. This is a display of the Giant’s personal objects. I absolutely loved the giant accordion, which plays music and the keys light up with the song. Other chambers included one of crystal-related modern art, the high-tech world networking room, and the enchanted forest. All areas strive to engage all of your senses.
These chambers were made to provide “a magical experience, an escape from everyday life.” Indeed this is achieved.
After finishing in the Chambers of Wonder, guests have the opportunity to purchase crystal products in a beautiful and sparkling shop (prices €3-thousands). Swarovski crystal is known worldwide for superior quality – as well it should as it was Daniel Swarovski who invented the first machine in 1892 to precisely and perfectly cut crystals. The company was founded in 1895, after which it continued to pioneer new processes and products, and grew to have production locations in 12 countries.
The Swarovski Crystal Worlds tourist attraction was originally built in 1995 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company. The number of visitors took the company by surprise, with 5 million by September 2003. The original Crystal Worlds was expanded and improved to accommodate the huge number of tourists, resulting in the interesting world that I have described above.
Excellent food is available at the Luna Room Restaurant. It is easy to visit Swarovski Crystal Worlds by using the Sightseer Tourist Shuttle. Entrance is less than €6, and is free with the Innsbruck Card (see Overview).
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 20, 2004
Swarovski Kristallwelten (Swarovski Crystal Worlds)
Innsbruck, Austria 6112
43 5224 51080 0
Attraction | "Tipsy Tobogganing"
This unique and fun activity can be arranged through hotels in Innsbruck or directly through the Ski School of Innsbruck, which runs the trip. The trip runs every Thursday (unless there is a complete group of 20, in which case a special trip will be made) starting at 7:45pm. Cost is €18 for adults, and €10 for kids.
First we took a bus trip (around 30 minutes) to Axamer Lizum, a small village outside of Innsbruck. Everyone was given a quick toboggan lesson, then sent inside the small restaurant for a free drink. I might suggest you bring some extra money and have a couple more drinks for courage! Besides, some activities are easier when you are more relaxed, right?
Our group within the group also ate dinner at the restaurant (dinner not included), which was simple but delicious food in a cozy atmosphere.
Now for the hard part – getting down the mountain. Tobogganers have the choice to go it alone or to go with another person. I went alone, but in retrospect, would have had much more fun with a partner. Four kilometers is a long way to hang out on your toboggan by yourself. Plus, if you crash or fall or otherwise have a crazy time, it is better to have someone to share the experience with. Even better, try to go down with one of the ski instructors for maximum speed!
Steering a toboggan is fairly easy. It is stopping that is the hard part, especially when it is icy like when we were there. Helpful ski instructors are stationed all along the course to warn of difficult areas, and, I assume, to pick up the pieces after a crash. The most important thing to remember is to get out of the way as fast as you can if you fall, as the person behind you likely can’t stop very well either.
At the bottom, the evening is finished with shots of really strong schnapps – I guess to celebrate your survival and lack of injury! Beware: too much schnapps may cause out-of-tune singing of songs like "The Brady Bunch" on the bus ride back to the hotel.
All in all, tobogganing is a wild combination of old-fashioned fun and tipsy foolery that I highly recommend!
Axamer Lizum holiday village
Innsbruck Gletscher Skipass
The pass includes the six main ski areas directly around Innsbruck: Nordpark-Seegrube, Patscherkofel, Axamer Lizum, Glungezer, Schlick2000, and Stubai Glacier. This combination allows use of 64 lifts, 150 km of prepared pistes, and touring routes for all skill levels. Prices are:
3 days-€85/68/51 (adult/senior/child)
3 days out of 4-€89/72/54
3 days out of 6-€95/76/64
Innsbruck Super Skipass
This ski pass cover the same areas as the Gletscher Skipass, but also includes Kitzbuhel and Arlberg (St Anton), for access to 195 lifts and 545 km of pistes. Prices are:
4 days out of 6-€142/96 (adult/child)
5 days out of 6-€193/134
The 4-day pass includes 3 days at Gletscher Skipass locations, plus one day at either Kitzbuhel or Arlberg. The 5-day pass includes 3 days at Gletscher Skipass locations, plus one day at Kitzbuhel and one day at Arlberg.
Both of these passes include the free ski bus. The passes that include a certain number of days out of a number of days are great for skipping days when the weather is bad, when you want a rest, or when you want to have a museum/sightseeing day in Innsbruck. It would be great to combine a ski pass with an Innsbruck Card (see overview) or a ski package (below) with an Innsbruck Pass.
Ski Innsbruck has a list of hotel/meal/ski packages for Innsbruck hotels and two of the ski areas. An example of one of the packages is 6 nights at a middle-rated hotel, meals, and 5 days ski pass for €477 per person double occupancy.
I did not try any of the above options, but rather I skied at individual ski areas with day passes, commuting from Innsbruck. I skied at Kühtai and at St. Anton/Arlberg. In general, I found Kühtai to be a good place for a family trip. St. Anton/Arlberg is a world famous ski area. You can ski for a week without retracing your tracks, and you can spend days skiing to and from nearby villages. There is a wide range of difficulty levels, but it is also more difficult to negotiate. It would be useful to hire a ski guide, at least for the first day of skiing until you learn your way around. Please see my separate journal entries for these ski areas (Kühtai in this journal, St. Anton in its own journal called "Superior Skiing for Everyone").
Skiing, ski passes and packages
Port Angeles, Washington